Ghost dance and cargo cult…In times of stress look for the prophets of an earthly paradise…
How are we to explain such seemingly diverse movements as those of the Jewish Zealots and the early Christians, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Kitawala of the Congo, the Ghost Dancers of the North American plains? The earliest attempt to do so was made by James Mooney, who had studied the Ghost Dance firsthand and who is an important source for our knowledge of the American Indian movements; he attributed them simply to “religious abnormalisms.” Such an explanation is no more satisfactory than another that became widespread a little later: millenarian movements are an outlet for the superfluous energy liberated by the introduction of modern tools,. Other scholars have erected theories that ascribe the movements to mental indigestion caused by the introduction of Christianity to intellects not yet ripe for it- and also to emotional stresses that predispose a people to yearn for deliverance.
Elements of truth can probably be found in each of these explanations, but a much more satisfactory one exists. “The deprivation theory” was first documented about 1935 by an anthropologist , Philleo Nash. His method was to re-evaluate the influence of the first Ghost Dance, that of 1870, on three different groups of indians- the Klamaths, the Modocs, and the Paviotsos- who had been brought together by the white authorities on the Klamath reservation in eastern Oregon. Each group was made up of several bands, and all of them had the same opportunity to succumb to the hopes of the first Ghost Dance when it reached the reservation in 1871. Yet some bands rejected it, others took to it enthusiastically for a short time and then abandoned it, and still others continued faithful to its teachings long after it had died out.
Nash delved deep into the history of each band, and he concluded that it was not simply a case of a band adopting the Ghost Dance if it had suffered great deprivation because of the white conquest. More important was whether the band felt deprived of material benefits it had been led to anticipate. He learned that a band of Klamaths- the only Indians who had not fought the whites and who had peacefully accepted white values- participated enthusiastically in the movement. The reason was that the Klamaths had been deprived of their expectations: they had been given white skills that they had no way to use: they had been shown the benefits of white civilization but had not been taught the skills to acquire these benefits. The only indians on the reservation who had beyond doubt benefited by their identification with whites, and who accepted their values, were the Indian employees. They took no part in the movement- and they even attempted to suppress it.